The monks at Holy Cross Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Berryville, Virginia, decided in 2007 to work harder at being better stewards of the earth, which is part of their Cistercian tradition. Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on protecting the environment has bolstered their resolve.
The monks, who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, have always worked closely with their local community and the land on which they live. The monastery's Father James Orthman said, “We live a way of life that’s literally rooted in the land. The liturgical life reflects the succession of the seasons, and the more you become sensitized to that, the symbolism of the liturgy becomes so much more compelling.”
According to Catholic News Agency, the monks turned to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment to author a study on how the abbey could become more sustainable. The resulting 400-page study, “Reinhabitating Place,” provided many suggestions, and since, the Trappists have taken steps to prevent cattle from polluting the river that runs through their property and planted native hardwoods and bushes in order to attract migrant animals, insects, and pollinators to restore proper biodiversity to the area. They also switched their heating and fueling sources to propane gas, and even started offering “green” burials, which eliminate the embalming fluids and lead in coffins that can be detrimental to soil.
The monks hope that their initiative may serve as a model for low-tech, low-cost solutions to environmental problems, especially in developing countries.
Of the pope's encyclical on the environment, Father Orthman said, “At the end of the day, I can ... say to myself ‘Ah, this is worth it. We should keep doing this. I’m going to keep putting up with the nonsense to get this done.’”